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Thursday, May 4, 2023

The McStay Family Murder Case

     Joseph McStay, a 40-year-old owner of a company that installed home water fountains, resided with his wife Summer and their two boys in Fallbrook, a suburban community 55 miles north of San Diego, California. On Monday, February 8, 2010, the McStays were reported missing after a security guard in Ysidro, a town across the border from Tijuana, Mexico, discovered the family's locked and apparently abandoned Isuzu Trooper parked in a mini-mall parking lot two blocks from the border.

     A surveillance camera on a neighbor's house in Fallbrook showed the couple and their boys, ages three and four, pulling out of their driveway in their SUV at 7:45 in the morning of February 4, 2010.

     Poor quality surveillance camera footage on the Ysidro/Tijuana border revealed a family resembling the McStays walking into Mexico four days after they were video-recorded leaving their home in Fallbrook.

     On February 14, 2010, police officers entered the McStay's cul-de-sac home in Fallbrook. The house had not been forcibly entered. Moreover, officers found no evidence of a struggle or the theft of household property. Police officers found bowls of popcorn in the living room and eggs on the kitchen counter. The family's two dogs were in the backyard, an indication the McStays hadn't planned for an extended trip.

     Investigators found no recent activity on the McStay's credit cards or bank account. An examination of their home computer revealed an Internet search that read: "What documents do children need for traveling to Mexico." Friends and relatives, however, had no knowledge that the McStays had planned a short trip into Mexico. After leaving Fallbrook that morning, the family simply disappeared.

     At ten in the morning of November 11, 2013, an off-road motorcyclist near a dirt road in the desert outside the San Bernardino County town of Victorville, came across what appeared to be human bones. At that location, 100 miles north of Fallbrook, detectives discovered two shallow graves each containing two sets of skeletal remains. A few of the bones had been scattered by animals. Items of clothing were also recovered from the scene. The remains were not far from Interstate 15 that connects that part of California to Las Vegas.

     Forensic scientists, through dental records, identified Joseph McStay and his 43-year-old wife Summer as being the two adults found in one of the desert graves. The other two sets of skeletons belonged to their children. According to San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, the McStays and their children had been murdered. The Sheriff, at that time, did not reveal how they had been killed. There were no suspects.

     In speaking to reporters, Joseph McStay's father said he did not believe the people in the Ysidro surveillance footage seen walking into Mexico depicted his son and his family. "My son doesn't walk that way," he said. "They didn't walk into Mexico. They would never do that." The father explained that his son and his wife were aware of the Mexican drug gangs and would not have exposed the children to that risk.

     On November 5, 2014, deputies with the San Bernardino Sheriff's Office arrested Charles "Chase" Merritt at his  home in Chatsworth, California for the murder of the McStay family. The 57-year-old and Joseph McStay had been business partners. The authorities did not reveal a motive for the mass murder.

     Investigators believed the victims had been bludgeoned to death in their Fallbrook home. They had not traveled to Mexico after all. Apparently the murder suspect had disposed of their bodies in the desert outside of Victorville. Deputies booked Merritt into the West Valley Detention Center on four counts of murder. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     In the wake of Chase Merritt's arrest, Patrick McStay, Joseph McStay's father, criticized the San Diego County Sheriff's Office. According to the father, the agency that initially took control of the case didn't actively investigate it. Detectives in San Diego were operating on the theory that the family had traveled to Mexico where they were killed.

     "I know they screwed this thing up," Mr. McStay said. "All the rest was just sugar coating to make it look like they really were interested in solving the case, doing something. They did virtually nothing."

     Regarding the quadruple murder suspect, Mr. McShay said, "Chase was always somebody chasing the dollar. I think that's what it was. It was all about the money."

     On January 30, 2015, Chase Merritt told a judge that he wanted to represent himself at his upcoming murder trial. He said he only had six to eight months to live and wanted to move the process along as quickly as he could. In November 2014 he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Merritt's attorney, Robert Ponce, despite his client's health problems and lack of legal background, informed the judge that Merritt had the intellect to adequately defend himself. The judge scheduled a hearing on the issue for February 20, 2015.

     The judge denied Merritt's request to represent himself and scheduled the murder trial for July 2015. In July the judge moved the trial date to September. On September 4, 2015, the same judge postponed the trial to allow Merritt's attorneys to request funds for an expert witness. The Merritt defense hoped to find a forensic scientist to contest the prosecution's key piece of physical evidence: the defendant's DNA inside the victim family's vehicle.

     Finally, after numerous appeals, motions and judicial delays, a San Bernardino County judge set Merritt's murder trial date for November 13, 2017, seven years after the McStay family murders. In California the wheels of justice turned slowly.

     Finally, in June 2019, following a four-month trial, jurors in San Bernardino found Charles "Chase" Merritt guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. The jury recommended the death penalty. The judge set the sentencing hearing for December 13, 2019.

     On November 3, 2019 the judge delayed Merritt's sentence hearing after Merritt's lead attorney claimed that a conflict of interest had come up that prevented him from staying on the case. The judge allowed the attorney to withdraw and set the sentencing for January 2020.
     On January 21, 2020, the judge sentenced the 63-year-old Charles Merritt to death.


  1. imo...most murders are committed by someone the victim knows; these murders appear to be committed by someone the victims knew, therefore no forced entry, violence, etc... However, what if...no one came to the house but called on a phone, and the McStays met them at the bridge where they were killed, and the cell phones were thrown away. This crime shows premeditation, and imo was carried out by 1 person. To involve more individuals would be taking a big risk. The graves were already dug. Whoever drove the Trooper had a plan on getting home, could they have taken a bus? No one picked them up! Again...someone could
    talk. This a crime of personal hate. I thought reports said Joey McStay met someone for lunch, Summer spoke with her sister on the phone, the tv was on a children's program, and they left the house at 7:45pm. I believe someone faked an emergency to get them to drive to the bridge. At that time of night it would be hard to see a view. Why didn't Mike McStay notify police sooner? He indicates it would be odd for his brother not to notify anyone of a trip, yet he didn't bother to call police? And someone had stated they called his mom days earlier. Why the disinterest? Again...if money wasn't missing it was personally motivated imo. The eggs left out could indicate Summer was preparing a cake, or something for the Birthday party. The kids wanted to eat popcorn to watch tv, but 1/2 bag was still by the microwave...was this for Joey who was on the phone or in the shower? If the surveillance camera across the street picked up McStays leaving couldn't it have picked up another vehicle coming to the house or leaving? Odd that a lower window was open for people who left on a trip. Odd that Mike saw the dogs outside but didn't report anything odd. Mike himself left on a trip but waited before he called police, alittle selfish imo. His needs came first. I read that Joey was adopted, could this be important? imo...it is not important about Summer's various names...think about it...she had her birth name, then her 1st marriage, then her marriage to Joey. That's 3 different last names, and all legal. Note that Summer and Joey lived a somewhat "surfer/hippie" California lifestyle and many people (I know many who have...even I considered it living in a ski area, new-age environment) change their 1st names to reflect themselves spiritually or who they are inside. People have made this into something and it means "nothing." Summer was reflecting herself who she is now and how she feels. Again...not an issue. I really feel the McStays left to meet someone, an emergency, to help someone they knew. They were taken by surprise that this person would harm them. imo someone should check to see if directions to a location were wrote down, doodles, along with initials or names by the phone, desk, table, etc..These are only my opinions.

    1. Great post. LE tells murders commited in home.Do we then not believe in Luminal, and blood cast off? Talk about clean-up, omg. Just askin' and sayin' IMO

  2. Joey was not adopted. He and his brother look just alike!

    1. If you want to get picky they have different fathers but Joey was adopted by the man who fathered Mike, which makes him Joey's father.

  3. Above article dated Nov.20 says the video shows the McStays leaving their driveway. No, it doesn't. It shows a small section of the Trooper leaving the driveway, but that's all. Nobody was visible

  4. Also where did poster December 12, 2013 at 11:34 PM get that "the tv was on a children's program???"

  5. summer talked to her sister in the morning! she told her I will talk to you later and she never called her sister back, that is because chase was busy murdering them at that time!

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